The first time it happens is a pure coincidence.
Mark is staying over at the Dream dorm when he finds himself waking up starving in the middle of the night –knowing that he should have eaten something before heading to bed but having been too tired at the time to even consider cooking dinner.
The watch by the bedside table lets him know that it’s half past two in the morning, and while his head is heavy from sleep, he knows that he won’t be able to fall back asleep until he’s had something to eat. He gets up, making sure not to make too much noise as he bypasses a sleeping Donghyuck and exits the room.
It being so late in the night, he doesn’t expect to see light coming from the kitchen. He expects to find Jaemin sitting on a chair by the kitchen table even less; dressed in pajama pants with a glass of flavored water in front of him.
“Jaemin?” Mark asks, eyebrows shooting up, and then remembers Taeil’s grievances and adds in a softer voice, “What are you doing awake?”
Mark wonders briefly if he is disturbing something.
Had it been Jeno or even Jisung, Mark would have known as soon as he’d walked into the kitchen, but Jaemin had always been a hard nut to crack. Withdrawn one second, high on energy the next. Always difficult to read.
“Couldn’t sleep,” Jaemin’s replies as he puts his phone down, adjusting his hoodie over his head and meeting his gaze. It’s the first time in a few days that Mark sees him without a thick layer of heavy-coverage foundation, and the dark circles under his eyes are strikingly apparent under the bleak kitchen lights. “Jisung needs to get up early tomorrow and I didn’t want to wake him up.”
Mark licks his lips, scratching the back of his neck.
“Want something to eat?”
Five minutes later Jaemin is supervising the kitchen while Mark tries to avoid burning simple toast, and while it’s a strange occurrence in the middle of the night, Mark is used to jet-lags and late-night stress and doesn’t think too much of it. On the contrary, sharing Jaemin’s airpods and watching music videos on YouTube while eating butter on toast is nice.
It’s the second time it happens that Mark begins to suspect that something is wrong.
They’re in the middle of recording the Hot Sauce album, and with Mark being the last one out of the recording studio, he decides to sleep at the dorm since it’s more convenient for their six am pick-up. The kitchen is empty as he enters, the lights off in the living room, but when Mark heads towards his own room he sees light shining out from under the door to Jaemin’s room.
He considers ignoring it, knowing that the person on the other side of the door might just have forgotten to turn the lights off, but also knows that Jisung is spending the night at Chenle’s and that Jaemin is alone in their shared room.
Not having seen him since their late-night snack, Mark plans to turn the lights off and then head to bed but instead finds Jaemin sitting in bed playing games on his phone.
Like before, the lack of foundation reveals a pale complexion, and Mark pauses, his greeting dying a swift death on his tongue.
“Why, hello there,” Jaemin says at his unexpected entrance, his voice more high-pitched than usual. Paired with the bunny plushie on his nightstand, it makes for an oddly cute image that has Mark snapping out of his stupor.
“How come you’re awake?” Mark asks. “I thought you headed home early to sleep.”
At least that’s the excuse Jeno had used in order to explain why Jaemin wasn’t sticking around for late-night take-out like the rest of the members.
Jaemin offers him a shrug that looks a little too nonchalant and goes back to speaking normally.
“Couldn’t fall asleep,” he responds. “Usually happens around comebacks.”
It explains his under-eye circles.
Mark knew that Jaemin occasionally had trouble sleeping back when they’d been younger –it being part of the reason Jaemin had started drinking such strong coffee in the first place— but he hadn’t known that it had gotten worse. It wasn’t strange, not since Mark hadn’t promoted with him in a while, but it made him a little unsettled nonetheless.
“Oh. I didn’t know.”
Jaemin shrugs again, and this time it looks a little more genuine.
“It’s a new thing,” he says. “I would be surprised if you did.”
There is no bitterness to his voice, just a simple acknowledgement that he wasn’t the closest to Jaemin out of all the members and vice versa. Jaemin picks his phone up again, probably expecting him to go back to his own room, but instead Mark takes a step towards the bed.
Luckily –or unluckily, really— Mark knew how to deal with insomnia.
When he’d first become a trainee and his only goal had been to train a little longer, to train a little harder, turning his brain off during night had become near impossible. His parents had said that it probably had to do with stress, with moving from one country to the other and trying his best to adapt, and in an attempt to get him to fall asleep, his mother had sat by his bed and brushed her fingers over his temples, humming softly under her breath.
Mark still didn’t know if it was the hands brushing over his forehead or the comforting presence of his mom that had finally made him able to sleep, but whatever the mixture had been, it had worked.
He had no idea if brushing his fingers over Jaemin’s forehead and temples would help or only serve to make him more awake, but he figured it could be worth a shot. It didn’t seem like Jaemin had any chance of falling asleep within the next hour either way.
“I could try something my mom always did to get me to sleep,” Mark suggests. “I think I remember how to do it.”
Jaemin tilts his head, momentarily looking torn between cooing at him for mentioning his parents or eyeing him curiously.
“What is it?”
“A head massage, I guess? Or something like that?” Mark laughs a little awkwardly. “It’s good at relieving stress.”
Jaemin is silent for a few seconds before he says, “Why do I have a feeling that you touching my head could easily end in me getting a concussion?”
Had it been Donghyuck, Mark would have punched him lightly in retaliation, but as it is he only settles on protesting loudly, pouting a little.
“I won’t,” he answers. “Promise. It feels nice, trust me.”
Apparently, the allure of being able to fall asleep is a little too appealing because eventually Jaemin nods.
“Alright,” he says. “But I expect you to buy me a full row of flowers if I end up in the hospital.”
After a little bit of shuffling and Mark wondering if he had accidentally made things very awkward between the two of them, Jaemin ends up with his head resting on a pillow next to Mark’s crossed legs. Mark’s back meets the wall at the head of the bed, and while his position is more than a little uncomfortable, he remains leaning over Jaemin gracelessly, already sensing that his offer would probably be fruitless.
“Okay,” Mark says, clearing his throat and trying his best to remember what his mom had done. “I guess I’ll just begin.”
Jaemin stares up at him, eyebrows raised, and Mark lets his fingers fall against Jaemin’s forehead. His hands probably aren’t as gentle as his mom’s, a little callused from playing his guitar, but Jaemin’s skin is smooth underneath his fingertips.
Mark tries to ignore Jaemin’s upside-down-gaze as he starts to slowly map out a route on Jaemin’s face, thumbs stroking over his forehead, ghosting over the soft hair of his eyebrows and then down to his temples. He tries his best to keep his fingers as light as possible, and while Jaemin’s gaze on him makes him feel a little jittery, Mark continues his task. He even starts humming a song in hopes of making the silence between the two of them a little less deafening, ignoring the little snort Jaemin lets out in response.
Thankfully the song does make him feel less self-aware, and soon enough Mark finds himself lost in the motions.
He only notices that Jaemin’s eyes are closed when he brushes some stray hair out of his face.
Mark pauses, hands stilling against his skin for a brief moment as he takes the opportunity to observe Jaemin’s face without him noticing –noting the difference a few years had made.
When they’d just met Jaemin had been a boyish type of pretty, cute more than anything else, but the years had made him grow into his features. Puberty had been kind to him, made him flourish, making him even more striking as an adult.
All of the NCT members were handsome, but there was something sharp about Jaemin’s type of handsomeness. Something that made Mark’s eyes settle on him without Jaemin needing to do much.
Mark lets his gaze roam over his chin, over his jawline and lips, and it’s only when he feels like he has mapped out his entire face with his eyes that he realizes that his fingers have fallen to the side.
That Jaemin’s breath has deepened.
Mark stops himself from letting out a surprised sound just in time.
He leaves as quietly as he can –slowly, slowly getting out of bed and making sure to remove his weight from the bed gradually, and then tiptoes out the room, turning the lights off the last thing he does.
They’re woken up in the morning at an ungodly hour, and while he and Jaemin are shuffled into different cars, the dark circles under Jaemin’s eyes are noticeably less severe. He’s also in higher spirits than Mark has seen him in for quite some time, running after Jisung and trying his best to pinch his cheeks, getting into a light-hearted argument with Jeno and joking around with Renjun. It’s even to the point that Chenle makes a comment about Jaemin being in a good mood when he has an arm hooked around Mark’s neck, and Mark just hums his agreement, secretly a little relieved.
It’s only later that night that they have the opportunity to speak alone, after Mark has finished washing up in the bathroom and finds Jaemin waiting for him in the living room.
And just like that Mark helping Jaemin fall asleep becomes something of a habit.
Jaemin will wait for him to finish washing up and then Mark will brush his fingers over his forehead and try to get him to fall asleep. Mark finds the arrangement a little strange at first despite being the one who instigated it, never having expected that it would work in the first place, but gradually gets more comfortable in Jaemin’s room and on his bed.
More comfortable around Jaemin, really.
They never speak about their nightly arrangements when other people are around, but for all that his members make fun of him for being oblivious to most things, Mark feels Jaemin’s gaze on him increasingly as the days pass. Whenever he turns his head and tries to catch him staring, Jaemin always has his eyes redirected, but being an idol, Mark has grown to perfect the art of knowing when someone is watching him.
The only thing that sets a stop to their newly established routine is NCT 127´s collaboration with Amoeba Culture.
The music video spans across 2 days with Mark going back to staying at NCT 127’s dorm, and even after all the scenes have been shot, they spend another day filming content for their YouTube channel. He’s gone a total of five days in the middle of what would regularly just be preparing for Hot Sauce promotions, and the first thing he notices upon meeting the dream members again is that the under-eye circles have returned to Jaemin’s face.
They’re not quite as bad as they once had been, but his eyes are red, and while Jaemin doesn’t let any fatigue show during dance practice –keeping up with the rest of them and perfecting moves even during breaks— Mark notices his pale skin and heavy breath simply because he’s looking.
It makes Mark frown, more bothered than he probably has any right to be.
They return to the dorms after 11 pm, and while Mark expects to see Jaemin propped up on the couch, waiting for him, he finds the living room empty. It makes him pause, something uncomfortably tight settling over his chest. He shakes it off, telling himself that he probably shouldn’t have expected something different in the first place, but finds the good mood he had been in all day disappearing.
It’s only as he enters his own room that he realizes that the living room had been empty because Jaemin had been sitting on his bed –room entirely empty of Donghyuck.
Before he has even had a chance to ask, Jaemin says “Donghyuck’s rooming with Jisung.”
Mark considers asking Jaemin how he had persuaded him to do that but instead approaches the bed, suddenly a little nervous.
“Did you sleep any while I was away?” he asks, concerned about the exhaustion that seemed to cling to Jaemin like a wet shirt. Mark objectively knew that Jaemin had to have slept some to still be able to stand on his two feet, but it couldn’t have been much.
“A little,” Jaemin replies.
“I thought you would try to ask someone else to help.”
“I did,” Jaemin says, leaning back against the wall. “Jeno tried but it didn’t really work.”
He is quiet for a little while until he adds, “My doctor thinks it might just be placebo. That my mind tricked itself into thinking you help me sleep since it worked against all odds the first time.”
Mark’s mouth pops open in surprise but Jaemin simply tilts his chin up and raises his eyebrows, daring him to say something.
“Scoot down,” is what he says instead, surprised when Jaemin doesn’t comply.
“I want to try something,” Jaemin explains, averting his gaze uncharacteristically. Or maybe characteristically, Mark thinks, having seen glimpses of a Jaemin that wasn’t super confident before but still finding it rare. “It’s…I want to see if it has to do with the massage or just…”
He leaves out the you, and Mark swallows, pulse spiking. Jaemin picks up on his nervousness but reads it wrong.
“If you find all of this annoying just kick me out. I’ll be tired but I’ll survive.”
Mark shakes his head quickly.
“No, it doesn’t bother me. Beats having to deal with Donghyuck’s snores,” Mark jokes.
Some of the tension disappears from Jaemin’s body, and not really knowing what Jaemin had meant when he said that he didn’t want to scoot down, Mark decides to sit down next to Jaemin on the bed instead. When that gets a little uncomfortable, Mark scoots down and props himself up against a pillow –only a little too late realizing that the position has made him face-to-face with Jaemin who is just a few centimeters away.
It’s the first time they’ve truly shared a bed since they became roommates for a night in Japan, and even then, Mark had been asleep before Jaemin had gotten back from whatever it was that he was doing. The biggest memory he had from that was Jaemin waking him up and jokingly calling him oppa.
“When did your insomnia start?” Mark asks, hoping to make himself a little less aware of the short distance between the two of them. “I remember you being sleepy before but never it being this bad.”
Jaemin looks back at him, eyes dark and terribly pretty, and Mark feels more awake than he remembers being all day.
“Go,” he answers. “I had nightmares about not being able to promote, and then that turned into not being able to sleep at all. I’ve seen doctors about it, but the medicine just makes me nauseous and drowsy. Not the best when you’re trying to learn new choreos.”
Jaemin turns his gaze away, breaking their eye contact and staring up at the ceiling.
“It usually gets better after the first performance, so it’s not too horrible, all things considered.”
Mark frowns, still thinking it wasn’t too great either, but by the time he is considering rekindling the conversation, Jaemin’s face has smoothened, fast asleep.
Mark stares at him, a little bit amazed that he hadn’t even needed to touch him in order to get him to relax, and doesn’t know why the knowledge makes his chest soar.
He plans to stay still in bed for a little while to make sure that Jaemin is truly asleep before moving to Donghyuck’s, but Jaemin is warm next to him, his breath even, and before Mark knows it, it’s morning.
It’s just his luck that he gets woken up by a Donghyuck who has his eyes narrowed like he is trying to solve a mystery.
Mark ignores his piercing gaze by jumping into the shower and getting into a different car, but it’s Donghyuck, and Donghyuck always gets what he wants. He corners Mark when he is refilling his water bottle –having been naïve enough to think that he wouldn’t be followed out.
“What’s going on between you and Jaemin?” he asks, hands on his hips and lips pursed.
Mark takes a large gulp of water and tries his best to look casual.
“Nothing,” he answers, which technically isn’t a lie. “He just needed help with something and then we accidentally fell asleep.”
“Must have been a boring conversation,” Donghyuck says, clearly not convinced.
Mark punches him lightly, but is happy that Donghyuck drops the conversation in favor of packing his bags for the reality show they would be filming later that day. They would be recording their stay at a guest house, and while Mark hadn’t thought much of it at the time, he finds himself wondering if he would be able to choose Jaemin as his roommate.
Mark isn’t naïve enough to think that it’s a coincidence that Donghyuck decides that he is to sleep in the bed opposite him while Jaemin sleeps in a bunk bed downstairs.
Mark catches Jaemin’s eyes briefly on the other side of the room, his eyebrows furrowed, but not wanting to make a fuss while cameras are watching, Mark doesn’t argue Donghyuck’s decision. It’s only when night arrives and Donghyuck and Renjun both fall asleep that Mark dares to think of Jaemin, wondering if he is still awake.
Mark glances at the clock.
Both he and Jaemin had been chosen to prepare breakfast in the morning, and coupled with the knowledge that Jaemin’s bed is probably uncomfortable, Mark reaches for his phone and sends him a text, knowing that he could always use the excuse that it was more convenient if anyone asked.
He doesn’t receive an answer at first and feels temporarily foolish, wondering if he had overstepped his boundaries, but then he hears a little creak as someone walks up the stairs. Seconds later Jaemin walks to the edge of his bed.
Mark lifts up the ends of his blanket.
Neither of them say anything as Jaemin climbs into bed, but Mark lets out a little breath as Jaemin lies down next to him and relaxes into his warmth instantly. Mark finds himself relaxing too, curling towards Jaemin, and while he had never really been fond of sharing beds, he doesn’t mind sharing one with Jaemin. He had a nice, clean scent that smelled of his tropical shampoo, and unlike some of the other members he didn’t move much or snore.
He only made Mark feel comfortable.
Mark presses up against him under the excuse that his bed is a little small for the both of them and promptly falls asleep.
Their Hot Sauce promotions kick off three days later.
Mark spends the first few days amazed at just how much they’ve grown, breaking their own records and then some, barely home even for a few seconds between all the shows and YouTube videos and practices. When they get the first few nights off, he and Donghyuck spend them in NCT 127’s dorms, and while his body is screaming for sleep, Mark feels restless.
He stares up at the fan rotating in the middle of the room and feels wide awake, oddly unsettled more than anything else.
The beginning of the promotions had meant that Jaemin was finally able to sleep on his own, and while Mark is happy that Jaemin’s burst of insomnia has finally passed, he’d gotten used to Jaemin’s unexpected presence in his life. Not having him as a prominent part of his day felt strange –even more so when they acted like nothing had really happened around the rest of the members.
Things continue like that for another week, another two weeks, and then the most intense of their promotions are over.
Mark stays over at the dream dorm after a practice runs late and looks forward to sleeping in for the first time in a while, watching bemusedly as Donghyuck disappears into Renjun’s room with a bottle of wine. He doesn’t complain, knowing that he will get to have the room to himself for the first time in a while, but despite putting on the acoustic version of Peaches and trying to doze off, his mind refuses to cooperate.
He lies wide awake for an hour before he decides to grab some water, and it’s as he’s leaning against the counter, fiddling with his phone, that Jaemin walks in. His hair is damp, his face free from make-up, and judging from the bike suddenly having appeared in the hallway, Mark guesses that he’s been out exercising.
He looks healthy, his complexion pretty, and Mark’s mouth dries.
“Having trouble sleeping?” Jaemin asks as Mark puts the glass of water down, eyeing Mark the same way Mark had eyed Jaemin.
Jaemin’s stills for a second before his lips form a mischievous, pretty smile.
“Well,” he says, “I think I have something that can probably help with that.”